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12 Times You’re Totally Within Your Right to Be a Jerk

Sometimes dropping the polite mask is exactly what you need to regain your confidence, feel powerful, protect yourself, and get what you want.

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When someone cuts you off in traffic

You’re halfway through your morning commute when all of a sudden a driver swerves into your lane, cutting you off and nearly causing an accident, after which they blithely continue on their way, checking their phone and swerving in and out of traffic until they’re out of sight. We’ve all been there (boy, have we all been there). It’s infuriating. It’s often enraging—to the point where you might be tempted to let a few choice words fly. Do it, says Rebecca Roache, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of London and author of an upcoming book about swearing. Sometimes swearing is the best response to a situation as curse words let you express your anger and get it out in a safe way, she says. The other driver won’t hear you and they really do help you feel better, she adds. Just be careful if you have little ears in the backseat! And even when you’re not in the car, here are four totally appropriate times to curse.

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When someone asks you a terribly personal question

“How old are you?” “How much money do you make?” “Why do you have six kids, don’t you know how birth control works?” If you are the type of person who can answer personal questions from a stranger with a wry smile or a joke then kudos but a stony silence may be the best most of us can manage. (Or use one of these answers to 25 of life’s toughest questions.) And if the asker persists in their rude questions it’s OK to be a jerk and tell them it’s simply none of their business and to back off. And don’t apologize. Everyone has a right to their privacy.

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When you need to get something major done at work

There’s nothing worse than being an expert in your field and not having anyone listen to your expertise. And while it’s best to try kindness first, sometimes you have to be forceful to be heard—especially if you’re a woman in a male-dominated workplace. When you know you are right or feel very strongly that something needs to happen, it’s time to stand up for yourself, even if it makes you seem like a little bit of a jerk, says Andrea Cutright, chief operating officer of Ask.fm, in an interview with Fast Company. The point, she adds, is not be the office boor who refuses to listen to others and insists on your way or the highway but rather to be a “jerk” in specific situations when it’s important. It’s OK to be unyielding, passionate, unapologetic, and decisive when the circumstances warrant it.

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When your personal safety is threatened

You may have heard the advice that if you’re being assaulted it’s better to yell “fire” than “rape” because bystanders respond more to a threat that may impact them as well, even if it’s a lie. The thing is, when it comes to self-defense all rules of civility are off the table, says Don Seiler, a self-defense expert, 4th degree black belt, and author of Karate Do: Traditional Training for All Styles. Many predators rely on our ingrained politeness to hurt us, asking victims to do things that put them in a compromising position, he explains. So if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, feel free to yell, scream, run away, throw things, spit, or otherwise make a scene. Worried you might be misreading the situation? “Trust your gut,” Seiler says. “Besides, it’s better to be slightly embarrassed than dead.” And make sure you know these critical self-defense techniques to survive an emergency.

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When you need a shot of confidence

If you’re typically the wallflower at social events, getting a little jerk infusion may be just what you need to be the assertive, confident, awesome person you are deep down, says Chris Illuminati, author of A**holeology: The Science Behind Getting Your Way—and Getting Away With It. It isn’t that you should rampage through the party, knocking people’s punch cups out of their hands, rather it’s giving yourself permission to not care (so much) what other people are thinking about you. Thinking like a jerk can help you get past the fears that are holding you back. Besides, telling yourself (or others) to just “be more confident” doesn’t work.

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When you’re dealing with a jerk

When it comes to dealing with someone who’s being a jerk the best strategy may be to meet them where they’re at, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. “Normally, you would consider agreeableness—that you’re cooperative and kind—to be a good thing. And being disagreeable, or cold, to be a bad thing,” says author Fadel Matta, Ph.D., assistant professor of management at the University of Georgia. But that’s not necessarily true when you’re dealing with someone else acting like a jerk. Matching their tone and personality can get things accomplished faster than insisting on taking the high road.

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When you are turning down a date

Some would-be suitors accept a simple “no, thanks” for an answer but others will take your rejection more personally and get pushy, demanding a reason or a second chance. But no one is entitled to your time or attention and it’s fine to tell them that in no uncertain terms, Seiler says. “You don’t need to give them an excuse or apologize,” he says. “No is a complete sentence.” And if that makes you look like a jerk? So be it. Need tips? Here’s how to say no and mean it.

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When you’re the boss

Nobody wants to be the bad guy but when you’re the boss sometimes that’s your job. Insisting on being loved by everyone all the time is a recipe for management failure. Indeed, workers reported that they prefer having a “jerk boss” to someone who is unpredictable, refuses to make hard decisions, or can’t get things done, according to a study published in Academy of Management Journal. The researchers found that it’s more important that a boss is seen as fair and consistent than as Mr. or Mrs. Nice Guy. Don’t just be a jerk though—make sure you’re using these ten secrets to being a great boss.

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When someone needs to hear the honest truth

Brutal honesty is often more brutal than honest and usually if you want to maintain a relationship with that person you’d be best served to go with kind or at least tempered honesty. But there are some conversations that call for the absolute truth, even if you have to be a bit of a jerk to get it across—for instance, if you are confronting someone about cheating or substance abuse. “It can be hard for people to have very honest and open discussions with loved ones because they don’t want to hurt the other person,” says Michele Kerulis, Ph.D., relationships expert and professor of counseling at Northwestern University. “But, realizing that all conversations won’t be pleasant (but need to happen anyhow) will help you immensely.”

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When you need to take a big risk

Jerks are more likely to take big risks and push for what they want—probably because they simply don’t care what others think about their choices—which means they often get bigger rewards, according to a study done by the University of Amsterdam. “Semi-obnoxious behavior not only can make a person seem more powerful, but can make them more powerful, period,” writes Jerry Useem in the Atlantic. Hint: This is a one tactic used by 32 people who’ve crossed major items off their bucket lists.

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When you need to break the needless “I’m sorry” cycle

Apologizing when you’ve done something wrong is good and appropriate and keeps society from devolving into anarchy. But our current apology culture demands people apologize in all kinds of other situations, as a social lubricant. And while that’s not the worst thing you can do, constantly apologizing for things out of your control (like these 28 things you should stop apologizing for) can undermine your confidence and authority, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Steps to Crush your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. Apologize—sincerely and immediately—when it’s appropriate and skip it the rest of the time, even if people are expecting it.

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When you want to share something amazing you did

Tooting your own horn, whether it’s touting your great new job on LinkedIn or posting your kid’s straight-A’s on Facebook, is often seen as bragging. But there’s a line between being a braggart and simply wanting to share the good, Dr. Lombardo says. Forget the false humility or “humble-bragging” and be direct about why you’re awesome. Some people may see it as a jerk move at first but the more people are honest about their successes and failures, the more real we’ll all be able to be. Just stay away from comparisons—”my kid is so much smarter than yours”—or you really are a jerk.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.